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CUs prepare for tax season as VITA sites
MADISON, Wis. (1/21/14)--Income tax preparation season is getting closer, and credit unions nationwide are preparing to participate in the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
"It's a yearlong process, actually," Carin McClain, VITA program manager for Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD), told News Now. "We're concentrating on training our volunteers, making sure their certifications are completed and coordinating preparation sites."
The VITA program offers free tax help to people who make $52,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.
McClain has been on the road in Montana training volunteers, but noted that "credit unions do this work all across the country."
In Montana, the 29 MCUCD VITA sites prepared 2,074 returns in 2012, returning more than $1.9 million in federal funds, she said. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) made up just over $627,000. MCUCD partners with Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana, the Billings and Bozeman Human Resources Development Councils, Opportunity Link Inc. and United Way of Yellowstone County. The VITA partnership sites prepared 5,517 returns at 59 locations and returned $5,597,564 in total federal refunds. The EITC made up $2,069,271.
"Our main focus is to let people know the advantages of filing their taxes," McClain said. "Many people we service don't have a filing requirement, but they can claim really important tax credits that they are entitled to."
VITA volunteers provide electronic filing of returns. Combine that with direct deposit, and people can get their return just as fast as if they filed themselves or use a paid tax preparation service, she said.
They also get education about the tax process and what tax credits they are eligible for, such as EITC, Child Tax Credit and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled.  "The clients will say, 'I had no idea that I had that credit,'" she said.
Last year, the MCUCD VITA Partnership garnered a $76,800 IRS grant to support tax preparation sites (News Now 10/17/13).
Some credit unions--$388 million-asset Belco Community CU, Harrisburg, Pa., for example--will open their doors to members and non-members for scheduled appointments. In other cities, such as Leominster, Mass., volunteers from IC FCU, Fitchburg; Leominster CU; and Workers' CU, Fitchburg, staff sessions at local libraries (Worcester Telegram & Gazette Jan. 16).
The National Credit Union Foundation's REAL Solutions program also provides resources for becoming a VITA site.

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